"You never get the order unless you ask for it."
From the time I was old enough to understand what making a sale meant, my Granddad drilled this phrase into my head. Usually, I dismissed his efforts to induct me into the stressful world of sales. That was for insurance salesmen like him and my dad. It didn't apply to me. I was going to become a writer.
Which I did...only to discover that writers are salespeople, too. Just about everyone is. If you create or provide something that other people want or need, you're a salesperson. Writing, hot dogs, door knobs, tax preparation, house cleaning, teaching -- it all gets sold.
After countless family dinners spent in arduous boredom, left out of conversations about accounts, chargebacks, renewals, and endless political intrigues in which my parents were inevitably the tragic victims, I grew up with a deep-seated resentment of selling. Selling meant stress. Selling meant cajoling people into buying things they don't want. Not surprisingly, when I went on to run a computer parts distributorship in my early twenties, I failed miserably. The job involved lots of selling, and, by God, I wasn't going to be a salesman.
It would take another two decades for me to realize that, in one way or another, everyone is a salesperson, and selling isn't bad. It's not what I thought it was. As with anything else, there are right and wrong ways to sell. Done right, the process is about helping people and providing them with more total value than the amount of money they give out in exchange. I don't mean things like when Office-a-Palooza offers to sell you a $29.95 extended warranty for an $89.95 inkjet printer. That's just taking advantage of people's ignorance and fears. I mean things like providing a great story to someone in ebook form, something that will entertain them for five, ten, maybe twenty hours, for only $4.99. That's amazing value. That's worth selling -- and buying.
Viewed in this way, selling isn't a bad thing. It's good, maybe even noble.
Only lately in my career as a freelance technology writer did I discover the value that my talents could offer to some companies. People told me for years why they liked my writing, but I didn't get it. Honestly, I thought any monkey could do what I did, and, when it came to benchmark-heavy hardware reviews or the like, that was more the case. You don't need a lot of talent or insight to operate a stopwatch and plug numbers into a spreadsheet. Which product is best? Well, that one, obviously.
However, I've been doing my day job for long enough (almost 18 years now) that I've learned a few things and gained a little perspective. Combined with a passable ability to translate Geek into English, I realized that I have a fair bit of value to offer commercial clients. Some companies are willing to pay for this value. I use the word "value" here instead of "expertise" or "talent" because I believe that, if I do my job right, they will get more in return through my work than the dollar amount I put on my invoice. It's a good deal for both parties, and, for the first time in my professional life, I understand that.
I'm not a monkey. I'm not a swindler. I'm just trying to do my best to help people, deliver real value, and make a living in the process. This is true of all of my writing work, commercial and fiction.
I wonder how many people are at or near my stage of life and haven't figured out their value proposition yet. It's debilitating, all of that self-doubt and aimlessness. You have to know your value proposition, because then...it's OK to ask.
Last week, I had a client renewing my contract for the upcoming quarter. They gently tried to nudge me to the bottom of my price range. I almost caved out of habit, nearly giving in to that old fear that it's better to have some work than risk having no work at all.
Then I looked at my schedule spreadsheet. No. I was going to be fine next month and probably the month after that. I could breathe. More than that, I knew my value, and I knew what it was worth. I countered with a number 50% higher than they'd offered. Two days later, they agreed.
This morning, I got final sign-off on a white paper I wrote for a different client, a new one I'd never worked with before. I was finishing the obligatory "thanks, glad you're happy, umm...bye-bye" email that would conclude the job. But before I typed my name, I heard my Granddad in the back of my head saying, "You never get the order unless you ask for it." It was kind of surreal, almost like Obi-Wan telling Luke to use the Force.
Before my name, I typed something I'd never written at the end of one of these messages: "So...what's next?"
Thirty minutes later, he sent me an invitation for tomorrow to discuss more jobs.
As parents, we're never really sure how to get through to our kids. My Granddad left out a couple of key tidbits in his message. Yes, you never get the order unless you ask for it -- that stands above all else. But when you ask for it, you have to know your value. You have to understand it and believe it, because once you know that, it will be obvious to everyone. You won't have to convince people to say yes. They'll be happy to say yes, because they know they're going to get the better end of a mutually beneficial deal.
Have you figured out your value yet? It's the foundation you stand on when you lift those around you to a slightly higher place.
William has been working in the tech field since 1991, when he began his long journey through working for a manufacturer's rep, being a distributor, moving into retail and corporate sales, shifting into journalism, and gradually transitioning into content marketing. In 1997, he sold his first articles to local computer magazines. By 1998, he was a full-time tech freelancer and now produces content for several of the industry's top companies.